Title page for ETD etd-06282006-173847

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Green, Henry Burke
URN etd-06282006-173847
Title The FAO’s Use of Fear and Forestry as Tools of Neoliberal Economics
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Watson, R. Janell Committee Chair
Barrow, Mark V. Jr. Committee Member
Grossman, Lawrence S. Committee Member
Gueye, Medoune Committee Member
  • discourse analysis
  • West Africa
  • environmental discourse
  • deforestation
Date of Defense 2006-05-12
Availability unrestricted
In this thesis, I study the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) depiction of West African forests in its Forestry Outlook Study for Africa: Subregional Report, West Africa, which attempts to describe all of West Africa’s forests simultaneously. The FAO is a large international development agency that produces agricultural and environmental information for individual states and other international agencies, such as the World Bank. The FAO’s forestry studies pander to Western fears of environmental degradation, assumptions of African backwardness, and the assumed “rational” behavior of private investors in a free market by depicting West African forests as rapidly, uniformly, and irreparably degrading due to “irrational” resource management. The FAO presents privatization as a natural goal of international development, and requisite for “rational” land use. Unless private investors are given control of forests, the FAO implies, “irrational” deforestation will destroy West African forests. The FAO has thus incorporated Western fears about the environment into their neoliberal economic agenda.

Academics have challenged the FAO’s description of West African forests and have found that, in many cases, the FAO’s attempts to provide generalizations and recommendations over large regions do not adequately reflect the economic and geographical diversity of the region. Current academic literature challenges the representation of West Africa, and the environmental discourse of international development. I find that even critics of environmental discourse do not adequately challenge the underlying neoliberal assumptions that motivate the FAO. I propose that critics must further distance themselves from the assumptions inherent to international development by incorporating economic philosophy into their critique.

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